Ben Leber: Vikings Need to Be ‘Tougher’
Ben Leber has transitioned successfully into broadcasting, and unlike many former athletes who speak into a microphone, the ex-Vikings linebacker talks honestly to his audience. As a sideline radio reporter at Vikings games and college football TV analyst, Leber is informative and fun to hear because of his candid approach.
Leber retired from the NFL in 2012 after 10 seasons but remains an authority on the Vikings. Minnesota had a disappointing 8-7-1 record last season and failed to make the playoffs after summer predictions included the team among Super Bowl favorites. What do the Vikings need to do to be better in 2019?
Leber’s answer that the Vikings need to be “tougher” may surprise some fans because the club has built its reputation with defense and is led by demanding fifth-year head coach Mike Zimmer. But Leber told Sports Headliners the Purple took a step back last year from where they had been on both defense and offense.
“I think there needs to be an attitude and a stigma that’s set early on in the (2019) season that they have to play a ferocious and intimidating style,” Leber said. “I think everybody knows they will be well coached in Xs and Os, (but) now I think they need to take it to another level and…be the dogs on the field. Be the guys that people are afraid of. I don’t think that they struck fear in anybody last year.”
Leber believes the Vikings had an intimidating identity in 2017 when they went 13-3 in the regular season and won their first playoff game in the 2018 postseason. Leber said foes were “scared” of the defensive unit, and they over game planned about how to deal with Minnesota’s No. 1 ranked NFL defense. But in the NFC title game against the Eagles, things changed. Here is Leber’s analysis of why the Vikings experienced an embarrassing 38-7 loss costing them the opportunity to play in the 2018 Minneapolis Super Bowl:
“Philadelphia basically said, we don’t care who your stars are. We don’t care what the public thinks and what the media thinks. We’re going to attack those guys and put them in vulnerable situations, and they did.
“I think that (approach by opponents) carried over…and that’s what you saw this last year (2018). Early in the season the defense especially—just sort of scrambling to try to readjust itself—that the teams were attacking them so directly.”
In Leber’s view the offense also needs “to scare people in the run game.” Running back Dalvin Cook, whose first two seasons in the NFL have been limited by injuries, could play a major success role for the Vikings because he has big play potential that few NFL rushers possess. “Anything that makes Dalvin a true weapon where defenses have to worry about a home run shot with him, that’s a threat,” Leber said.
Perception can be reality, and Leber said the likelihood of the Vikings making consistent and productive plays in the run game is important. The benefit is that when defenders respect the run, play action passes are more likely to succeed, receivers have a better chance to get open and the offense simplifies for quarterback Kirk Cousins.
In addition to broadcasting, Leber is active speaking to groups, particularly corporations. He was raised in small towns in Iowa and South Dakota, and he shares a message with audiences about experiences in early life and growing into a man.
“I would say the biggest thing that I try to drive home is football wasn’t easy for me,” Leber said about his speaking assignments. “Not because of the physical aspect of it, but because of the self limitations that I put on myself, and I think that can apply to everything.
“I grew up listening to the labels that I came from a place…where people in a small town don’t succeed. I came from a place where people like to place labels on people, and I walked away going off to college believing those things. Almost holding myself back because I was sort of scared to succeed… .”
More on Leber at Benleber.com.
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